Joe Paterno’s legacy


I think this is the third time I’ve written about the Paterno / Sandusky scandal.



This will be the last time, I promise.



But I can’t help myself.



So: Jerry Sandusky was found guilty. Then the Freeh report (which, by all accounts, was thorough and fair) found that Sandusky’s crimes were not only known to the University administration – and to Joe Paterno – but that those crimes were systematically covered up by the administration. Most damningly, this was largely at the behest of Joe Paterno himself, who wanted nothing to get in the way of his winning legacy. At one point, the administrators were about to go to the local authorities; then one of them met with Paterno, and some days later informed his colleagues that “we’re going to go another way with this.”



It’s largely on the basis of the Freeh report that institutions all over America, including Penn State itself, have quietly removed Paterno’s name from scholarships and such. Penn State took down Paterno’s statue on Sunday morning.



So it looks as if everyone’s trying to move on.



Except (sadly) for Paterno’s family.



Listen, I understand family solidarity; I admire it. It doesn’t shock or horrify me when a convicted murderer’s mother insists on his innocence. We don’t want to believe the worst of our loved ones.



But the Paterno family’s recent statements are way beyond the pale.



See if you can find the howlers in the following paragraph:



Sexual abuse is reprehensible, especially when it involves children, and no one starting with Joe Paterno condones or minimizes it. The horrific acts committed by Jerry Sandusky shock the conscience of every decent human being.  How Sandusky was able to get away with his crimes for so long has yet to be fully understood, despite the claims and assertions of the Freeh report.



Here’s my list:



        They talk about Joe Paterno in the present tense, even though he passed away some months ago. Just a slip? Or are they implying that Joe lives on as a kind of angelic presence?

        According to the Freeh report, Paterno did indeed minimize the crime of child abuse. He certainly considered it of less importance than his football record.

        Sandusky’s crimes might shock a decent human being – they shock me, and I am far from being a decent human being – but Freeh established that Paterno had a pretty good idea of what Sandusky was doing, and evidently it didn’t shock Paterno enough to remove Sandusky from proximity to the kids he was abusing.

        How did Sandusky get away with his crimes? Well, sugar, he had help. To be sure, Sandusky was dropping clues like bread crumbs all over the place – most horribly, that book of his called “Touched.” But for some reason, every time a little piece of information made its way to the Penn State administration or to the police, something (or someone) brought the action to a screeching halt.



The family’s statements go on. It’s not fair to punish the college, and the students, for what Jerry Sandusky did. How does this benefit the victims? Or the students?



And so, drearily, on.



I don’t like to get too psychological, but I can just imagine what it was like to grow up with Joe Paterno as a father. One assumes that life was all about winning and losing. Sadly, the family is applying that attitude to the current situation.  They do not seem to realize that the game has already been lost. It was lost in 1998, back when their father first discovered that Sandusky was abusing children.



The family needs to retreat, and express sympathy and condolences to Sandusky’s victims, and make a generic statement like “We respect our father’s memory,” and leave the rest to silence.



Silence, in this case, as far as the Paterno family is concerned, would be best.



The Jerry Sandusky trial


The Jerry Sandusky case has finally gone to trial. The testimony – descriptions of what Sandusky did to those poor kids – has been brutal. The defense, naturally, is trying to depict the victims as a cabal of greedy envious ungrateful liars, but I don’t think they’re having much success.



I was given pause on Wednesday morning, however, when I happened to overhear the following scrap of narration on “Good Morning America” (I paraphrase): “Present in court were both Jerry Sandusky and Mike McQueary, the two men who – more than anyone else – brought about the downfall of Joe Paterno.”



No. Sorry. Joe Paterno brought about the downfall of Joe Paterno.



Joe Paterno covered up a series of vicious violent crimes against children, because of his own vanity, and his overblown regard for his own reputation, and – maybe also a little – because of his (misplaced) loyalty to his friend Jerry Sandusky.



Paterno also tried (briefly) to portray himself as a victim. Remember those ugly Penn State campus riots protesting his firing? That’s another little nastiness that Joe Paterno brought about, and then did little to stop. I imagine him sitting home snickering about it.



Sometimes we have to separate people’s accomplishments from their failings. Everyone says Paterno was a great college football coach, and (because I know nothing, or next to nothing, about football) I can accept that. But Gandhi or Saint Francis he was not.



The more I think about this case, the emptier and more desolate I feel about it. Sandusky actually founded a children’s charity, which proved to be a rich source of little boys for him to prey upon. At least one victim was told that his accusations had to be groundless, since it was well know that “Sandusky had a heart of gold.”



I know that the trial isn’t over yet, and that I’m prejudging Sandusky.



Here’s the thing: I don’t think I’m wrong about this.



Here’s a sad fact about humanity, kids: when you assume the worst about people, you’re not often wrong.


Joe Paterno


I watched ESPN’s SportsCenter the other night while I was on the treadmill at the health club.  (The mere fact that I am watching sports programming should be taken as a sign that 2012 is definitely going to be the end of the world.)



I can’t endure listening to sportscasters, for the most part; they do nothing but spout empty clichés.  Before the game, they pretend to know what’s going to happen; after the game, they take all the credit if they were right, and make excuses for the losers if they were wrong.



But then you have the special features.



Joe Paterno died this past weekend, and one of his former players came on to reminisce about him.  This went relatively well until we got to the end.  This is a paraphrase: “Of course he was very frail, and naturally he was also very ill.  But I think it’s fair to say that he died, at least partly, of a broken heart.  And I hold the Board of Trustees, and the media, responsible for that.”



A little later he said: “Joe was very generous.  He always thought of others first: his team, his family, his friends.”



To her credit, the newscaster interviewing him did not react (actually, she was extraordinarily neutral, which I think spoke for itself).  She thanked him, and gave him her condolences.



I am nowhere near as calm or as classy as that.



I would have added something like: “Of course, Joe didn’t think too much about the children who might have been abused by Jerry Sandusky. Maybe they were being abused and maybe they weren’t.  So who cares, right?”



Or: “Man, I know what you mean.  You’re a saint, and you lead a perfect life, and then you just protect one child abuser from prosecution, and all of a sudden you’re a bad guy.” 






Tact will never be my long suit.


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